What To Do if Your House is Broken Into

As a police officer, I responded to hundreds of burglaries and was often the first person a homeowner spoke with after they discovered the crime. In nearly every case, the victim was clearly frightened, confused and shocked.

In addition to suffering property damage and losing irreplaceable items, the emotional toll of a burglary is overwhelming. To help you and your family cope, we’ve put together this guide that includes steps to take after the crime has occurred, and tips for helping you avoid being a victim once again.

1. Leave the house and call 911.

While most burglars will run the moment they hear you approach, some will hide in your home and could pose an incredible threat to your family’s safety. If you arrive home and think your home has been burglarized, get out immediately. Then call 911. You don’t need to confirm that items have been stolen to contact police.

2. Don't touch anything.

Some burglars wear gloves, but not all do. Resist opening jewelry drawers and touching anything inside your home.  Fingerprints are powerful prosecutors, but they are delicate and can easily be destroyed. Until police have given you they okay to do so, don’t touch anything. Make police aware if you find something that may belong to the burglar, but don’t touch it.

3. Wait in a safe place.

Find shelter in a neighbor’s house, or get back in your car and lock the doors until police arrive. Make note of any unfamiliar people or cars you might see near your home, jotting down physical descriptions and license plates numbers. Often, what seems out of place is, and your seemingly unimportant information could help police track down the criminal.

4. Take inventory.

You’ll need to make a list of items that were stolen, and property that was damaged. You’ll need to provide the list to law enforcement and your insurance company. Take pictures of damaged property, such as door and windows, and also items inside your home like tables, lamps, and even knick-knacks that have been damaged. You’ll also want to write down the make, model and serial numbers of electronics. Before you can file an insurance claim, you’ll need to file the police report, so getting your list written as quickly, yet as comprehensively as possible, is important.

5. Take care of kids.

Many parents find that it’s best to have their children stay with friends or relatives until their home has been put back in order. While this isn't always possible, it’s a good idea. The wreckage some burglars create is unimaginable and your children (regardless of their age) will be overcome with emotion when they find their “safe place” has been ruined by a stranger. Believe it or not, pets also react to a burglary. You may find Fido hiding in a corner or insisting on jumping into your bed. Everyone in your family will need extra TLC after a burglary, including you.

6. Clean up and get back to “normal.”

Putting your home back in order will help you start to regain your sense of control, and is the first step to enjoying life as you once knew it. Ask friends and family to help, because the task will be an emotional one especially if your home was ransacked. Remember, if you come by an item that’s not yours, report it to police. It could be an item that helps police catch the burglar, or connect him to another crime.

7. Prepare for the future.

Nothing you do will 100 percent guarantee your home (and your family’s) security, but a few things can help reduce the chance you’ll suffer another burglary. You must be proactive and educate yourself on your home security options. Today more than ever, there are a wealth of effective, affordable security plans to choose from. We’ve put together this easy to understand security system finder tool to help you get started.

And mobile apps that are compatible with your home security system abound, and offer added comfort. You should know that according to the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation, a study by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology found that homes without alarm systems are three times more likely to be burglarized than those with an alarm system.

8. Survey your home’s security.

Installing motion detectors, ensuring doors and windows are locked, and using timers to activate lights when you’re not at home are easy and inexpensive ways you can help secure your home from another attack. Then turn to the professionals. Don’t hesitate to ask a law enforcement official to come to your home and conduct a security survey. Most agencies are glad to send an officer to your home and it won’t cost you a cent.

While the officer is there, it’s a good time to pick his or her brain on other ways you can protect your family’s safe haven and inquire about crime in your neighborhood. You’ll also want to make a list of all make, model and serial numbers for electronics, and take pictures of your most expensive or irreplaceable items. Keep in mind that many police jurisdictions will serialize your items at no charge.

A burglary is traumatizing. Don’t be surprised if it takes your family weeks or months to fully recover. Meanwhile, use our guide to help you along the way and prepare for the future by boosting your home’s security immediately.

Alexia Chianis
Written by
Alexia Chianis
Wanderlust junky and mom of two, Alexia is a former police officer and U.S. Army Captain who draws on her experiences to write about a myriad of safety topics.

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